On a quiet Brooklyn street, screening movies and introducing neighbors
For the first of a series looking at the who, why, and how of neighborhood-based arts organizations, here’s an introduction to young nonprofit Video Revival.
In the arts mecca that is Brooklyn, culture-lovers from around the world have been seeking cheap rent ever closer to the end of the subway line for years. But despite the substantial numbers of artists living throughout the sprawling borough, many neighborhoods offer little in the way of arts infrastructure. To hear live music or take a dance class, many of its 2.6 million residents need to travel to a more central location.
For the team behind Video Revival, a young storefront movie theater on the border of Crown Heights and Prospects Lefferts Gardens, this was a challenge worth taking on. “The biggest reason for us launching is that there’s no other place in the area where people can come to see a movie,” Erik Escobar, one of the organization’s twenty-something founders, told me.
Although no one in the group has a background in film or venue management—Escobar is a biologist by training, Hollis Johnson is a photographer, and Christian Hendricks is completing a master's in fine art—they began searching for a commercial space near their apartments in early 2016. After scouring Craigslist and calling numbers posted on metal grates, they found a landlord willing to provide several months of free rent on a quiet stretch of Rogers Avenue. They worked around the clock for weeks to build the space out, then launched the theater in August.
Since then, Video Revival has hosted screenings almost daily. With an eye to inclusiveness as well as experimentation, the team has shown everything from Troop Beverly Hills to Rio Escondido, a Mexican film from the 1940s. The space also holds a regular filmmakers’ meetup offering local directors a chance to show and discuss their work, as well as a monthly video art forum. Successful attempts at comedy shows and band nights have led to a desire for further experiments with live events.
Having obtained nonprofit status in March, the team is now searching for ways to make the space sustainable in the long run. Escobar and his cofounders have financed the project themselves to date—all three work or study full-time—but need to start offsetting the costs of rent and film licenses with fiscal sponsorships and higher ticket sales. (For now, everyone who works at Video Revival is a volunteer, keeping costs to a minimum.) “We’d really like to be able to program a lot more, but the biggest hurdle has been the financial one,” he said.
Reaching new audiences to increase ticket sales presents challenges of its own. With little time or money for marketing and outreach and only a small sign to mark the theater’s physical presence, the team has so far relied on social media and word of mouth. “Talking to the president of the block association here, she had mentioned us at one of their last meetings and was telling me, ‘There are people who live on the block and didn’t know you were here,’” Escobar said. “So the biggest thing is trying to let people know that we’re here.”
Despite this, one of the biggest surprises since the launch has been the degree to which the space has already provided a valuable resource linking artists, filmmakers, and others living nearby. While Escobar and his founders had always been interested in the shared experience of viewing movies in public, their thoughts hadn’t strayed much further into the potential for community-building. But less than a year in, this function has risen close to the top.
“We’re almost serving as a meeting spot for people to informally network,” he said. With most of the audience drawn from the immediate vicinity, providing a forum for people to meet neighbors with similar interests and exchange ideas has addressed a clear need. “Everything we do is kind of like, ‘Hey, we’re here to network.’”
Top image: Video Revival via Video Revival